You’re planning a 2 week vacation to a foreign country. You want to be prepared for anything so you pull out your largest travel bag and start to pack, but only half of your stuff fits. 2 stuffed bags later and you still have a pile of stuff to bring, so you pull everything out and start over . . sound familiar?
Here’s the kicker: Once you get where you’re going it’s HOT. Only a couple of the outfits you brought are comfortable and you end up wearing only those outfits (and your bathing suit) the whole time, and the rest of your clothes and most of your gear spend the entire vacation packed away.
This is a pretty standard experience for most of us. I’ve done it and I’m sure you have too. So how do you pack only the stuff you’ll actually use?
During the past 2 years of travel Kathy and I have gotten really good at packing light – which is also packing right! Not only that, but I have everything I need and I have clothing for most occasions and temperatures.
I’ll give you an overview of what I pack and then break down each item with (affiliate) links to those products on Amazon so you can learn more about them if interested. Obviously what works for me may not work for you, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt.
Here’s What I Pack:
- 1 pair of shoes
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 4 pairs of socks
- 8 pairs of underwear
- 2 pairs of pants
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of boardshorts (bathing suit)
- 6 lightweight t-shirts
- 2 lightweight long-sleeve shirts
- 1 button-down shirt
- 1 light-weight jacket
- 1 light-weight raincoat
- 1 hat
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- 1 small clothesline
- Bugspray stick
- Waterproof card/cash holder
- Standard Toiletries
- 17″ Mac Book Pro
- Travel Mouse
- Backup Drive
- Canon S90 Camera
- Smart Phone
That’s everything. It’s enough clothing that I’m always comfortable down to around freezing plus my mobile office which you may or may not need to bring.
This list includes the clothes that I wear while traveling. I also pack a complete change of clothes in with my computer/electronics bag, and everything else fits easily in a 21″ (carry on) rolling bag.
My Clothing Choices in Detail:
Clothes make up the bulk of what we pack and they also make up the bulk of the stuff we don’t use. Packing for every possible situation is what gets most of us in trouble. Instead focus on bringing clothes that effectively serve more than one purpose!
If you’re going somewhere warm, then less really is more. I bring exactly 2 pairs of shoes with me: Olukai Ohana Flip Flops (in Dark Java), and now my Merrell Edge Glove Barefoot shoes (also in Brown)
Both pairs of shoes have 3 things in common:
- They’re both light-weight and pack small
- They’re extremely comfortable! (although barefoot shoes aren’t for everyone)
- They’re both brown, so they match my travel clothes
They’re also both a bit on the pricey side, however they’re very well made and last a long time. I’ve literally walked more than 10 miles in a day wearing my Olukai flip flops and felt completely fine doing it. you can’t say the same for most flip flops! Not only that, but my first pair of Olukais lasted 2 years and I wore them practically every day. Worth every penny!
As I usually wear flip flops I don’t often wear socks, but socks do make my Merrells more comfortable.
The best travel socks keep your feet dry, prevent blisters, and are easy to wash on the go. My favorite socks are Wrightsocks. They use thin double layers to prevent blisters and are constructed with coolmax so they vent well.
There are dozens of colors, sizes and configurations, and I recommend bringing something similar – especially if you plan to do lots of walking. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting a blister on the first day of your trip and being unable to walk!
I bring around 4 pairs of socks with me, whether I’m going for a week or a month. You can wash them easily in your bathroom sink, and they dry quickly even in high humidity.
Far and away the best underwear I’ve found for travel and general purpose use is Under Armour 6″ Boxerjocks. For women this is clearly going to be different, but if you’re a guy I can’t recommend these enough.
These are the single most important piece of clothing you’ll bring with you, and I usually bring 8 pairs – whether I’m going for a week or a month. I know $20/pair sounds like a lot, but they last a long time – around 2 years a pair – and most importantly they stay where they’re supposed to, they’re incredibly comfortable, and they prevent chafing!
There’s nothing worse than regular boxers in the heat and humidity. Once you start to sweat they get damp and they’ll ride up and rub your inner thighs raw.
Boxerjocks are also easy to wash in the sink and they’re fast drying.
Pants and Shorts
Do yourself a favor and avoid zipoff ‘convertible’ pants. Yes it’s nice to be able to go from pants to shorts, but they look awful and put a huge ‘tourist’ sign above your head. The leg zippers also tend to chafe when you’re sweaty.
Another item to avoid (especially if you’re heading somewhere tropical) is jeans. Jeans are great in moderate temperatures, but in the tropics they’re hot, heavy, and when they get wet they never dry. I brought Jeans with me to Mexico and I didn’t wear them even once! Jeans also take up way too much room in your bag. Do yourself a favor and leave them at home.
A much better option is synthetic or cotton/synthetic blend pants. My personal favorite are Prana travel/climbing pants. They have about 2% spandex so they stretch and move with you, plus they’re designed to breath well and keep you cool even in high heat and humidity.
An added bonus is that they look good – even slightly dressy. That means you can go from hiking in the rain forest to dinner and dancing on the town without changing. This is key to keeping your pack weight down.
Also, In most countries shorts are beach wear. In Italy for example you won’t be allowed in many churches and museums wearing shorts. Prana pants are a great way to stay cool and comfortable without limiting your options.
That said, I do bring a couple pairs of pairs of shorts with me as well. Again, I focus on lightweight breathable and fast-drying fabrics. Prana makes great travel shorts as does Quicksilver. Quicksilver Walkshorts are the perfect blend – 65% poly, 33% cotton, and 2% spandex.
Shirts and Tops
Layering is key! I bring lots of lightweight synthetic-blend t-shirts – both patterned and solid colors. If you’re going somewhere warm then avoid 100% cotton. When cotton gets wet it stays that way – no bueno!
Stick to blends. Most shirt manufacturers make poly/cotton blends that feel soft like cotton, but dry quickly like a synthetic. Athletic wear (Nike Dri Fit) is also a good place to look.
I also bring a couple long-sleeve shirts that I can wear over a t-shirt if it’s unexpectedly cool. Stick with blends and keep these ‘in between’ layers lightweight. Heavy shirts have no place in your bag! These shirts can also be worn by themselves of course.
I also bring one nice shirt for a night out. It’s really not necessary to have more than one unless you’re going out every night – or going to the same place every night.
Finally, bring a light jacket and a super light rain coat.
My jacket is lined with a thin layer of polarfleece on the inside, and is brushed polyester on the outside. It’s dark grey/brown, and very neutral in appearance and it works perfectly. I wear or carry the jacket when flying so I don’t have to pack it.
I also pack a Marmot Precip Jacket which is a really light and relatively inexpensive rain coat.
In a pinch I can wear all 4 layers – a t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jacket, and raincoat – and be comfortable in temperatures down to freezing and below.
As I guy, I strongly recommend a neutral colored pair of boardshorts. Boardshorts look like shorts and can be worn that way – but are constructed out of bathing suit material. They also make boardshorts for women, however most women’s bathing suits are small enough that they take up very little space in your bag anyway.
I know this seems like a silly place to scrimp, but packing light is all about saving ounces anywhere you can.
Yes I lug around a 17″ MacBook Pro everywhere I go for work. No, I’m not a Mac snob, however I’m very happy with my laptop and it’s been incredibly durable and reliable. I also bring a portable mouse, although I don’t often use it as the ‘magic’ trackpad is excellent.
I do bring a backup drive and would strongly encourage anyone else to do the same. In the event my computer is stolen I can buy another (OUCH!) and restore all my files and be back in business – definitely keep the backup drive in a different part of your luggage!
Currently my phone is not a ‘world’ phone, but I plan to get one in the future.
Other Electronics and Everything Else
Don’t go overboard with toiletries. Remember that you can get more of just about anything you need wherever you’re going. Also, I recommend using Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes for stuff like underwear and socks as they make it much easier to pack and to find things.
A word about Cameras – I used to be an SLR guy, however for the vast majority of us an SLR is impractical and way too heavy and uncomfortable to carry around all vacation.
As noted above I now use a Canon S90 (since replaced by the excellent Canon S95 and not so excellent Canon S100) to take all of my photos including those found on this site. The S90 has some SLR like qualities – ability to set Aperture, time mode, etc.. – but can be easily placed in your pocket.
If you’re not a professional photographer or planning to print your photos in large format, then save yourself a LOT of money and stick with a simple point and shoot Camera.
Keep in mind that the majority of great photos are post processed anyway. I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and post produce all of my photos, and it makes a HUGE difference in the way your photos look.
So there you have it. Everything I bring with me on trips. If I were to boil my message down it would be: Bring as little as you possibly can while still having enough to be comfortable, and bring synthetic blend clothes as they’re faster drying and more comfortable than cotton in the heat and humidity.
The bottom line is that dragging a bunch of heavy bags around the globe is not fun. Carrying fewer (and lighter) bags makes it cheaper to fly, easier to get to your hotel, and less likely that you’ll get robbed. It also makes you look like a competent and thoughtful traveler, which makes you look like less of a tourist (always a good thing in my opinion).
I hope this post helps you pack lighter on your next trip, and that as a result you have more fun. Until next time, happy travels!